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Surrey Satellites Win Space Debris Removal Contract

Published on: 11 Dec, 2021
Updated on: 13 Dec, 2021

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), based in Guildford’s Research Park, has won a contract from the UK Space Agency for a project to study how to take space debris out of orbit to make it safe for working satellites to operate.

Artist’s impression of space debris. Image by Shutterstock.

There are said to be over 30,000 pieces of space debris being tracked with many millions of minor objects remaining undetected. Removing space debris and preventing space collisions is crucial with the UK and other countries being reliant on satellites for services for critical national infrastructure such as navigation, telecommunications, security and weather forecasting,

SSTL has valuable experience in this field having been involved on two previous debris removal projects. One of SSTL’s satellites, Cerise, was involved in the first verified case of a space collision in 1996 when debris from the Ariane rocket tore off a boom on the SSTL satellite leaving it severely damaged.

The complex project, called LEOPARD (Low Earth Orbit Pursuit for Active Debris Removal), is to be led by SSTL and delivered by an international consortium including Airbus Defence and Space, University of Lincoln and the University of Surrey.

The SSTL RemoveDEBRIS satellite, one of the projects where SSTL have gained experience in the space debris field. Photo by SSTL.

To capture the rogue pieces of debris, options to be considered in the study will include using robotic arms, a chaser satellite to dock onto the larger pieces, a tethered space tug and a net capturing device.

Jacob Geer, Head of Space Surveillance and Tracking at the UK Space Agency, said: “Space debris poses a growing risk to satellites and the vital services they provide, as well as to human spaceflight and astronauts.

“This new project will draw on SSTL’s significant expertise and map out a new mission to remove defunct satellites from orbit. It’s a great example of how the UK space sector is playing a leading role in keeping the space environment safe and secure.”

SSTL’s Managing Director, Phil Brownnett said: “With over 500 operational satellite years and with our work on Active Debris Removal (ADR) demonstrator missions, we understand the risks of space debris.”

The project plans to launch a “demonstration payload” in 2025 using the UK space industry for each aspect of the satellite build.

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